While milling around the ground floor of Mason Hall on their way to classes this year, students may have noticed construction taking place. Yesterday, with construction complete, the Perlman Honors Commons had its commemorative opening with University President Mary Sue Coleman and LSA interim Dean Terrence McDonald speaking to mark the occasion. The facility will be utilized for students enrolled in the LSA Honors Program. This new lounge unnecessarily separates honors students from their peers enrolled in other University programs.
The new commons will be a location where students can chat, do homework and relax while grabbing a cup of Joe. But the opening of this lounge could be the start of a worrisome trend in which the Honors Program begins to wall itself off from the rest of the University community, in an unnecessary effort to single out honors students from their colleagues in other academic programs.
Last year, in a response to a diminishing pool of applicants and internal difficulties, the Honors Program hoped that the establishment of the Honors Commons would provide a shot in the arm to the stagnating program. But the opening of the lounge is unlikely to be the solution that the program’s coordinators seek.
Students are attracted to the Honors Program because of the unique combination of superior academic opportunities within a diverse and spirited public university setting. The stuffiness and elitism that the Honors Commons will perpetuate may further isolate the program’s students, but it will not improve the quality of their experience at the University. The unique appeal of this program, which is best defined by Tuesday and Thursday mornings listening to tales of Achilles and Saturday afternoons spent basking in the glory of Michigan football victories, cannot be matched by any institution in the nation. The implementation of uppity measures reminiscent of Princeton’s eating clubs will only weaken the quirkiness that makes the Honors Program strong. Expanding academic opportunities for honors students, such as increasing student-faculty interaction, will be more attractive to both prospective and current students, is the time-tested path to a healthier Honors Program.
The site of the Perlman Commons, with its panoramic view of the Diag and prime location near Angell Hall’s Fishbowl, is one more disconcerting aspect of the facility. The ground floor of Mason Hall is a bustling region in the heart of University activity, which could be better used for more egalitarian purposes. It should be a place open to the entire University community. Instead, only a small group of students will be able to take advantage of this facility. There should be more spaces such as this one for the student body at large to frequent. The University took a positive step by approving such a nice lounge for students, but it should not be developing lounges restricted to only certain students when the entire student body at large could benefit from their usage.